Just two days after Discovery’s sonic boom was heard in Southern California, there was a super “sonic” flight from 17th-century Versailles to 18th-century Paris on Sept. 13, as Les Paladins landed with an afternoon of “French Baroque Heroes” hosted by the Getty Center Concert Series. Established in 1997, Les Paladins are an ensemble of internationally acclaimed French Baroque specialists led by Jérôme Correas. Sunday’s program in the Harold M. Williams Auditorium included selections by François Couperin, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Marie Leclair, Marin Marais, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, and Jean-Philippe Rameau, all selected to complement the Getty‘s exhibit “Cast in Bronze:French Sculpture from Renaissance to Revolution.”
It took the ensemble a short while to find the appropriate touch for the full auditorium, which was acoustically somewhat dry. The opening Charpentier “Overture” was delightfully light and served its purpose well; it would sound great anywhere. The sound quality really gelled in Lully’s “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme” as cellist Nicolas Crnjanski appeared to carefully “pull” the tones from the instrument – very effective. He could also change roles to share melodic duties seamlessly with the violins, unhindered by the fact that his cello and the violins were physically separated by the harpsichord.
An abridged suite by Marais provided a 17th-century anchor for the timeline, with its distinctively French tenor coloratura and lightness of manner. Tenor Jean-François Lombard was superb in his expressive phrasing and balance within the ensemble. His voice found each nuance of the text as he sang Charpentier’s “Les Stances du Ciel,” and his mastery of pitch was evident in his effective interpretations. The strings blended beautifully with superb unison of puissant phrasing in the “Acréon.”
Françoise Duffaud gracefully navigated Leclair’s violin treatments from his only opera “Scylla et Glaucus.” She was exceptionally exact, yet fluid, and truly emotive. Lombard sang beautifully. (The Greek sea god Glaucus, incidentally, can be seen in the accompanying exhibit.) Couperin’s “Sonate l’Imperiale” gave flight to violinist Anais Flores, and the dramatic cadences of the various movements were nicely done by the ensemble.
Les Paladins lived up to their reputation, with Rameau’s “Les Boréades” as a great choice for the close. Its curious history places it posthumously as a final breath of the French Baroque opera style, but not heard until 1982! Director Correas was put to task here and he managed his role marvelously. The lively little “Counterdance” with its pianissimo ending was dramatic in its effect, and left me to recall it immediately after as I stood to applaud.
The encore of Leclair’s “Air” was stunning, and rivaled the finale in its impact. The virtuosity of Duffaud and Lombard made for a brilliant close.
The program notes were informative, and Correas’ spoken comments added valuable insights, but the musicians (and period instruments) were worthy of at least a little print. Overall, the program was a little lengthy not to have an intermission, but it was entirely pleasing and delivered more than expected.